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June 4, 2021

Highest-Paid Athletes 2021: All-Time Highs For NFL, NBA And Soccer Players, And More Numbers To Know


Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott made $107.5 million in 12 months, a record for an NFL player.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The world’s 50 highest-paid athletes collected $2.76 billion over the 12 months ending May 1, beating 2019’s record total by more than $150 million despite the pandemic. But this year’s list features many more notable numbers.

Here’s a breakdown of the top 50.

0: The number of athletes appearing on the list from Major League Baseball, the NHL or Nascar. MLB couldn’t have come much closer, however: Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor finished just outside the ranking with $33.5 million in total earnings, including $2 million in endorsements. That’s partly the result of last year’s shortened season, which led player salaries to be prorated for 60 games, but you can also blame our tracking window: The cutoff on May 1, 2021, meant that Lindor got credit for only one month of his $22.3 million salary for this season. That got added to his $6.5 million prorated salary from last season and a $21 million signing bonus from the ten-year, $341 million contract extension he signed this spring.

4: The number of athletes who surpassed $100 million in total earnings this year: Conor McGregor, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dak Prescott. The previous high for a single year was three. Only five other athletes (Roger Federer, Floyd Mayweather, Neymar, Manny Pacquiao and Tiger Woods) have ever accomplished the feat.

8: The number of sports represented on the list, led by football with 18 athletes. Basketball has 13 athletes listed, but the sport was hurt in the Forbes ranking by the NBA’s emergency pandemic adjustments to its escrow system; essentially, players will likely end up taking home 20% less than their base salaries would suggest for the 2020-21 season. Soccer (8), tennis (4), golf (3), Formula 1 auto racing (2), boxing (1) and mixed martial arts (1) rounded out the list.

15: The number of newcomers on this year’s list who have never been featured on Forbes’ highest-paid athletes ranking before. The number rises to 21 when strictly comparing against last year’s list, with 17 of those new names coming from the NFL. Turnover is always high with football players because of the way the league’s contracts are typically structured, with huge signing bonuses paid upfront and relatively low salaries. For instance, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott lands at No. 4 on this year’s list with $107.5 million in total earnings, with $66 million of that from his signing bonus; his salary next season will be just $9 million. The newcomers from outside the NFL this year relative to last year’s top 50 are Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler, golfer Dustin Johnson, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen.

16: The number of nationalities represented on the list. Other than the U.S., which has 34 athletes ranked, the only country to have more than one athlete is France (Kylian Mbappé and Paul Pogba).

31: The average age of the 50 athletes on this year’s list. Kylian Mbappé, at 22, is the youngest member, followed by the 23-year-olds Naomi Osaka and Max Verstappen. Phil Mickelson (50), Tiger Woods (45) and Tom Brady (43) are the only athletes over 40 on the list.

$35,060: The amount Roger Federer earned in prize money during our tracking window. With an estimated $90 million in endorsements and appearances, however, he still managed to land at No. 7 on the list. Tiger Woods had a similar disparity with $190,926 in prize money and $60 million in endorsements and appearances, clocking in at No. 12 in the ranking.

$2,160,000: The amount Phil Mickelson won with his PGA Championship victory in May, which did not land in Forbes’ tracking window. Had that tournament been included in this ranking, Mickelson would have jumped from 29th into a tie for 24th.

$32 million: The amount that Forbes estimates Canelo Alvarez made from his two fights in our tracking window, against Callum Smith and Avni Yildirim. Had his May bout against Billy Joe Saunders been included, Alvarez would have placed much higher in the ranking than a tie for 48th.

$34 million: The cutoff to make this year’s ranking, beating the previous high of $31.7 million from 2019. That’s up from $22 million in 2012, a 55% increase in ten years.

$41.5 million: Serena Williams’ 12-month earnings, including $40 million off the court. That ranks as the second-highest total for a female athlete ever, ahead of Naomi Osaka’s $37.4 million record from last year but behind Osaka’s figure for 2021. This is the second straight year that both Williams and Osaka rank among the world’s highest-paid athletes; the last time two women had made the list in the same year was 2015 (Williams and Maria Sharapova).

$60 million: Naomi Osaka’s 12-month earnings, the highest total ever for a female athlete. She crushed the record she set last year by more than $25 million thanks to an endorsement portfolio that now contains more than 20 sponsors, including recent additions like Beats Electronics, Levi’s, Sweetgreen and TAG Heuer. In all, her endorsements are worth $55 million a year—a number surpassed by only three athletes this year—and her $5 million in prize money in our tracking window pushes her into a tie with Tiger Woods for total earnings.

$96.5 million: LeBron James’ earnings total, a record for an NBA player. The Lakers star has a new endorsement deal with PepsiCo after leaving longtime partner Coca-Cola, which helped push him up to $65 million off the court.

$107.5 million: Dak Prescott’s earnings total, a record for an NFL player. Prescott is up to $10 million in endorsements and licensing fees, one of the highest marks in football, but the vast majority of his income in our window comes from the massive contract extension he signed in March.

$130 million: Lionel Messi’s earnings total, a record for a soccer player. A leak of his contract with FC Barcelona, reported in January by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, showed he was making much more than previously thought.

$302.5 million: The amount of money the NBA players on this year’s list raked in off the court. The NFL may have more players represented on the ranking—18, to the NBA’s 13—but that group combined for just $85 million off the field. It’s a sign that while football may remain the U.S.’s most dominant sport, no league is as marketable as the NBA.

$1.04 billion: The amount this year’s top 50 collected in off-the-field earnings from endorsements and their business activities, a significant increase from the record of $928.1 million set last year. In fact, the total was not that far below the $1.1 billion from last year’s longer list of 100 athletes. Conor McGregor leads the way this time around with $158 million off the field—$150 million of it from the sale of his majority stake in Proper No. Twelve—followed by Roger Federer ($90 million), LeBron James ($65 million), Tiger Woods ($60 million), Naomi Osaka ($55 million) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($50 million).

Information about the methodology Forbes uses to compile the list, which captures income the athletes collected between May 1, 2020, and May 1, 2021, can be found here.

Forbes – SportsMoney June 4, 2021 at 03:37PM Brett Knight, Forbes Staff

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